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Black History Is Our History: Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Also Known As The 'Father Of Black History Month'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - All this month, we're celebrating Black History Month.

We're going back to its origins, more than a century ago.

CBS2's Dana Tyler introduces us to the man known as the "Father of Black History Month."

Dr. Carter G. Woodson was born in Virginia in 1875 to former slaves. He became an accomplished scholar, prolific author and a visionary. He created what we now celebrate as "Negro History Month" to right what he saw as the unacceptable wrong - the glaring omission of a formalized Negro history.

"There was a time following slavery when society had developed a racial worldview, if you will, that African Americans did not possess a history and culture. And this view therefore distorted a lot of conceptions of what the Black race was in terms of their capabilities, and talents, and everything that they might have offered to American history," said Dr. Deirdre Foreman, president of the Manhattan branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

In 1926, Dr. Woodson started "Negro History Week" in February, an observance which would later be expanded to a month.

"The misnomer is that, because it's the shortest month of the year, it must have been given to us. Actually, Woodson chose this month because it was the birth month of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass - February 12 and 14th, respectively," said Foreman.

Woodson founded what is now known as the ASALH. Foreman says Woodson's goals went far beyond documenting Black heritage.

"He and others noticed that there was a significant disparity in the educational system in the United States," Foreman said.

Woodson overcame that disparity, and in 1912 became the second Black person to earn a PhD from Harvard University, and the first whose parents were slaves.

Woodson's most well known book, "Miseducation of the Negro," is still studied in classrooms. First published in 1933, it examines the failures of how Black people were taught and how Blacks were conditioned to be less, to be subservient.

Woodson died in 1950. President Gerald Ford formally proclaimed February to be recognized as Black History Month 26 years later. The observance addresses centuries of oppression, systemic racism and celebrating the countless contributions of African Americans to art and culture.

"Black history is American history, and American history is Black history. You can't have one without the other," said Dr. Dwight McBride, president of The New School.

Dr. McBride became president of The New School nine months ago, bringing a deep academic resume of African American studies.

"And if you're going to tell a story of America, and leave out Black people, it's going to be a very incomplete, not to mention unsatisfying and dishonest, story," McBride said.

He says he's fortunate to lead the university, especially now. After the brutal deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans and the massive protests and civil unrest, this awakening for American society, Dr. McBride says, is a critical opportunity.

"I think Black history the study of it in the way it happens, not only in schools but in churches, but now in municipalities, right, and states, within organizations, in corporations. I think that's critically important to creating a more inclusive world. Because every successive generation, always has the fear, right, I think, of losing or forgetting that, the importance of our history. And we've seen, if nothing else, we've seen in recent years what can happen when we neglect and forget our history, right, how dangerous that can be," McBride said.

One of Woodson's noted supporters was civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois. Woodson was the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard - Du Bois was the first.


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